USA — Flournoy Reaffirms Commitment to Bringing MIAs Home

WASHINGTON, Aug. 26, 2010 — The Defense Depart­ment is as com­mit­ted as ever to bring­ing home thou­sands of U.S. ser­vice­mem­bers who remain miss­ing from the Kore­an War and Cold War con­flicts, the Pentagon’s under­sec­re­tary of defense for pol­i­cy said today.

“This issue has the full and unequiv­o­cal sup­port of this sec­re­tary and this nation,” Michele Flournoy said at the Kore­an War/Cold War Annu­al Gov­ern­ment Brief­ing on the account­ing of miss­ing and impris­oned ser­vice­mem­bers held in Arling­ton, Va. Ensur­ing resources are avail­able “to have the fullest pos­si­ble account­ing” is a top pri­or­i­ty of the depart­ment, she said.

As many as 5,400 Amer­i­cans may still be in North Korea, and anoth­er 900 may be in the demil­i­ta­rized zone that has divid­ed North and South Korea since an armistice in 1953 halt­ed three years of fight­ing there, Flournoy said. Because there has nev­er been a peace treaty to offi­cial­ly end the war, those areas remain inac­ces­si­ble to the department’s search and recov­ery teams, she said.

Amer­i­can search teams were allowed into North Korea under tight con­trol between 1996 and 2005, and recov­ered the remains of 225 U.S. ser­vice­mem­bers, 81 of whom have been iden­ti­fied, Flournoy said. Ris­ing inter­na­tion­al ten­sions with North Korea over its efforts to obtain nuclear weapons and the sink­ing of a South Kore­an navy ship this year have end­ed those oper­a­tions, the under­sec­re­tary said.

Fur­ther com­pli­cat­ing efforts, Flournoy said, are ongo­ing reports that “tiny” num­bers of vet­er­ans may have defect­ed to the north, rais­ing con­cerns that they are being held as pris­on­ers of war. Depart­ment offi­cials have spent years try­ing to deter­mine if the reports are true, she said.

“We have no evi­dence that U.S. ser­vice­mem­bers are being held against their will in North Korea,” she said. “But we can­not tell you in many cas­es the fate of our miss­ing ser­vice­mem­bers.”

Despite the chal­lenges, she said, “We will get through this dif­fi­cult peri­od and do every­thing in our pow­er to resume recov­ery oper­a­tions and bring our ser­vice­mem­bers home.” Flournoy called the issue of miss­ing or impris­oned ser­vice­mem­bers “sure­ly the most painful lega­cy of war,” and said the depart­ment is com­mit­ted to keep­ing its search and recov­ery staff ful­ly resourced. Con­gress, also, has shown its will­ing­ness to pro­vide for the recov­ery of POWs/MIAs by includ­ing in the cur­rent bud­get a direc­tive that 200 new staff mem­bers be added to the effort each year until 2015.

Mean­while, the Unit­ed States has had increas­ing col­lab­o­ra­tion with Rus­sia and Chi­na to recov­er miss­ing ser­vice­mem­bers, and cur­rent­ly is eval­u­at­ing remains found from a plane crash in the Chi­na Sea report­ed by Chi­nese offi­cials, Flournoy said.

The depart­ment usu­al­ly recov­ers the remains of between 80 and 85 miss­ing ser­vice­mem­bers each year, she said.

Flournoy told the audi­ence that their work gives hope to the 200,000 mil­i­tary mem­bers cur­rent­ly deployed in war zones. POW/MIA work “is not an arti­fact of the dis­tant past,” she said. “These issues remain urgent, and our com­mit­ment to leav­ing no one behind is as vital and real as it has ever been.”

Search and recov­ery tech­niques have vast­ly improved in recent years, and the department’s teams are the best in the world, Flournoy said. “No one is more ded­i­cat­ed to the mis­sion,” she added.

“Your loved ones gave their lives for this coun­try,” she said. “We hon­or their sac­ri­fices, and we are com­mit­ted to their recov­ery.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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